The Small Small Trailer

An essay in inadequacy.

I’ve been wanting to write more about the vehicle that was our home for over a year after we sold our house back west as it deserves honorable mention. We’ll never forget the time we spent safely tucked behind it’s half-inch walls. The trailer is a 20′ Jayco Lite with canvas pullouts on each end. It was designed as a camper trailer … the kind you take the family for a weekend campout in, not live in for a year. That was not our plan, I assure you.. it just happened as some things do.

When I spotted it in an ad, I was sucked in by the extra amenities and the price. Plenty of room for the job as I saw it at the time. It came with a TV, radio, almost a wood stove (renovations had been started for the project), an air conditioner, central heating and something else so appealing I’ve forgotten what it was. It also came with a badly rotted floor which I didn’t know about at the time. The rest was standard.

We spent a summer living in the thing expecting to find a property with a house. We didn’t, and ended up tubed in for a year too long. The single table inside was only big enough for my son and his computer so I spent a lot of time doing whatever in our bunk at the rear or in the shed we half-built. My husband even moved his TV and Xbox outside during the summer. Just too cramped.

The sink was too small, the bathroom was too small and the hot water heater was glitchy and it became an art form to pull a shower off in the approximately six minutes available if the water didn’t boil over first. The pipes froze solid during the winter and imagine doing dishes outside in zero degree weather at a makeshift table. It happened.

We managed to break not one but two windows and had to tape them up and when the freezing temperatures hit, we had a major problem on our hands what with the canvas walls of the pullouts. We were clearly unprepared. That seems to be the story of our lives.

We ended up putting rigid sheet insulation and plywood around the walls and over the roofs of the pullouts but zero degrees doesn’t care. The rain had a tendency of finding a way through all the tarp we put over it too. Wet mattress pads, sheets and pillows were the order of the day. I don’t know how we survived but we did.

Some time during the summer the rotten floor made itself apparent and we crawled under the contraption to shore up the floor with two by fours to prevent a “yard sale” while driving down the freeway at sixty-five miles an hour.

There isn’t much between the outdoors and the humans either in a canvas pullout. One night the roof caved in on my face. I could feel paws on top of me as my husband half slept. When I screeched at the cat, he said “are you sure it’s the cat?” Helpful. One night shortly after we’d set up camp on our new property, we heard something that sounded big scrape up against a trash barrel outside just feet from our heads. My husband continued to take the outside position in the bed.

Last fall we got a fifth wheel for a temporary upgrade, not knowing for sure when we’d be able to build a real house but our fifteen year old insisted that he didn’t want to see the Jayco go to waste. He’s a teenager and still occupies it’s space.

We were quite happy to say goodbye and move next door forty feet away. At least we no longer have to worry about Mr. Foot reaching his hand under the canvas wall and making away with my husband.

 

Bear

Doesn’t take much of an explanation. A bear showed up last week and made the circuit between us and our neighbors a few days ago. The neighbors called Fish and Wildlife to make a report. On our end, we’re making sure everything that could attract a bear is locked up tight.

We’ve been watching the cameras and being really careful. I haven’t seen it in any videos for the past couple of days. We’re hoping it’ll move on. It was pretty big.

Two Idiots, A Water Heater and a Hero

Most people probably don’t give a second thought to their water heaters but ours came with a story.

We are afraid of it as we’re unfamiliar with it’s inner workings and are concerned it may blow up at any moment. It’s not the heater’s fault nor that of anyone involved with it’s design or installation; they’re just suspicious-seeming by nature. It doesn’t help that we’re ignorant of such things despite over a year of living off-grid in an RV.

When we first got the thing, we had recently seen an episode of Mythbusters wherein the guys purposely removed all of the fail-safe measures on some water heaters and cranked the heat up. The tanks shot hundreds of feet into the air after smashing through mock ceilings without effort, giving my husband and I pause as to what our own rocket/heater might be capable of. But let’s back up.

When we came by our fifth wheeler it had been gutted and refitted for use with city hookups such as electricity rather than for it’s original purpose of boon docking. The electric water heater that had been installed was gobbling our energy so we ordered a propane model. It arrived promptly and we managed to get it nestled into the side of our RV without much ado. We carefully hooked up the gas, checked for leaks and lit her up.

Everything went fine as we turned the bathtub spigot on and off to check the rising temperature but the water got hotter and hotter and stopped flowing altogether. Clueless and sure the heater was nearing ignition, we turned it off and called it a night.

The next day we exchanged the old faucet for a new one and the water ran fine but continued to overheat. We shut it down for a second time to save our very lives lest we recreate that episode of Mythbusters.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

We needed a professional. Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

We gave them a call and explained the strange behavior of our water heater and made an appointment. Although they didn’t normally deal with RV type systems, they were willing to come take a look. We kept the unit shut off while we waited for our savior- his elevated status growing every day we went without the ability to shower.

Then the day arrived and “he” showed up. He didn’t have six-shooters on his side but he came with a notepad and a toolbox.¬† Wringing our now filthy hands, we recounted our misadventures as the repairman stole sideways glances at the beast waiting silently in it’s hole on the side of the fifth wheel.

Finally, our man adjusted his collar and approached the offender with a swagger and a coolness that would make John Wayne jealous. He stared at his foe for a moment or two then reached out confidently and began to manipulate the dials with the authority of a….well…appliance repairman. We stood a good ways back and watched with mixed fear and excitement at the prospect of being able to resume our personal hygiene routines.

Then we heard it; the rocket-like flame of the gas feed shot to life as the man cocked his head and squinted suspiciously at the device while he made his final adjustments. With a satisfied nod he turned and walked back our way to give us the news.

His words will haunt us forever; “I turned the heat down.”

 

 

 

Itching To Get Out

The advent of Spring has left us dying to get out; maybe go on a hike on solid soil. My husband and I love the outdoors and we live in the woods but we’d like to see some different trees.

Morel season is quickly approaching but not fast enough so we settled for a drive up the road to DNR (Department of Natural Resources) land near us the other day. The DNR owns a ton of land that they manage for recreation and various other commercial and governmental type uses.

This area is well laid out with dirt roads threading through forested hillsides and mountains. There are a couple of silver mines, plentiful sources of wood that some hardy locals take advantage of to make a living (they are a special breed), and hidden huckleberry patches known only to some inhabitants. We’ve been promised to be taken out to pick but have been warned that the bears love huckleberries also. We’ll be sure to bring our bear spray as we always do The Man, the Bear and the Truck.

While in town the other day I stopped by the Colville station of the Colville National Forest for some advice as my husband has been chomping at the bit to go on some overnight backpacking trips. I asked if there were really Grizzly bear in Washington state and in Stevens County and the answer was “yes”. The ranger said they hung out closer to the Canadian border and at higher elevations so I think we’ll stick to the lower. I was instructed to spray our bear spray in a half-moon pattern horizontally to create a sort of wall in front of us before the animal gets close if we are unfortunate enough to have an encounter with a predater. Good advice. I would have just sprayed straight ahead.

I asked about Morel hunting in previously burned areas of the forest. The staff warned of hidden holes and falling trees as dangers so I think we’ll stick to safer places. There’s plenty out there as it is.

When I asked about road conditions the ranger recommended a phone app called Avenza which is free but you can download road and recreation maps of various sections of the national forest in addition to being able to navigate off-line. We could have used that a couple of years ago when we got lost in the Snoqualmie National Forest Lost In The Woods; Twice In One Day.

There is wild asparagus coming up although I have yet to find a single sprig, and crawfish waiting for my pot although I have yet to learn the spots they like here locally. We knew the other side of the mountains fairly well (except the time we got lost) but here is a new story. We’re still plying the locals for their secrets; more like begging.

Lastly, I have gold fever again and have been all over our property crushing and breaking promising looking rocks and I dug a hole right into what, to the best of my knowledge, is a geological fault. Our own private one. How’s that for a selling point? Our property has the perfect geology for possible gold and comes with natural springs . Couldn’t get any better for a geology/nature fanatic! Take a look at the map I found showing the fault. The photo is crummy but you get the point.

The back of our SUV is crammed with gold panning/prospecting stuff just in case; classifiers, my pan, my sluice, a shovel, the Fish and Gold Pamphlet required by the state to have in our possession so there are no excuses should we be caught out in the field breaking the law. ūüôā

The Wild West

This morning when I opened our front door, my eyes were greeted by a skunk rummaging through the bag of garbage we forgot to take to the enclosure rather than three inches of new snow but nevertheless, it’s a sure¬† sign we ain’t in Kansas anymore.

Our family moved from the “burbs” to the outlying areas of Stevens County Washington almost two years ago now. We didn’t plan it perfectly, maybe not even fully responsibly, but here we are still although I sometimes wonder if we did chew off more than we could handle.

The differences are cultural on top of pragmatic between the burbs and the country. Here there’s a palpable attitude of “buck up” although I often wonder if that’s really necessary. My preferred “trail mix” is not overly-done PC with some buck up added for good measure.

We aren’t super liberals nor super conservative. You wouldn’t catch me dead wearing Birkenstocks, wool socks and a denim skirt nor will you ever catch me posing with my latest kill. Each to their own with no judgement. We are in the middle on most things and for us, a moderate approach to life works.¬† We love this area and the people though, and are grateful for the breath of fresh air that is eastern Washington.

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of listening to another of our neighbors taking target practice on the upper property. After a few hours of it, I decided to look up the laws of the state and county as it was close and a bit unnerving. It didn’t help that the title of the county’s official welcome pamphlet was The Wild West and had the same “get used to it” tone. Is it possible to live in the sticks without this?

State law clearly precludes any shooting within five hundred feet of a house or any structure and an earthen berm is required to absorb the impact of the projectiles. The neighbor was shooting from about three hundred and fifty feet with no berm.

Sigh. I decided if they make any habit of it, I’m on it. I’m not letting someone with little respect for other’s safety put me or my family at risk. Don’t get me wrong.¬† My husband loves firearms and I don’t really have an opinion except are you gonna shoot me on accident? They are shooting from the hillside where some dumbass almost shot one of us when we first moved in.

In the meantime, we are looking for property in the same area but with a much bigger buffer between ourselves and other humankind.

Oh My – My Underthings Are Showing

The petticoat of snow has quickly abated and revealed an unkempt, half-awake landscape; much like my husband’s face in the morning when he first wakes up.

We are officially in the “before the pretty green things begin to grow” and the “cover your blemishes with snow and forget about it until Spring” phase. In other words, the place looks like shit.

Little bits of garbage that strayed from trash bags are all over the place, mud has replaced snow, and everything’s a general brownish color. But you know what? I love it! Snow is gone, snow is gone, snow is gone, snow is gone…:)!

That means mushrooming, gardening, gold panning, huckleberry picking, trash hauling, re-grading the road, spring cleaning the property, yay!

All in all, a sense of renewal and expectations for the coming year are at the tops of our minds. No more frozen hoses, frozen batteries, frozen this and that. A lot of energy goes into keeping things thawed and now Mother Nature is taking the helm.

One of the upper springs.

We’re using our solar panels again. We missed the height of the sunny season when we installed them last year so we’re very pleased to see we can run most things all day on sunshine alone. And that’s before the proposed upgrades.

Spring fever is upon us and thank God! We have a bog that used to be a road that we may need to hire someone to come in and fix but aside from that, the rest seems doable.

Today we are thankful after an especially trying month previous to this. Putting the sloggers on….

Happy Spring!

 

December In March

 

I wake up at three in the morning, open the door to the RV and what am I greeted by? Spring crocuses? Nope. The sound of songbirds (although not likely at this hour)? Nope.

Try a foot of new snow on the doorstep. It’s March for Godsake.

Did spring lose it’s way and pass our driveway by? Nope. I can see that the city down the hill is coated in fresh white. County too. As a matter of fact, BIG sections of the country are experiencing an identity crisis of seasons.

I don’t know if it’s global warming or the natural long-term patterns of a planet but the thermometer reads zero degrees and our pipes are frozen again. No water for coffee until we thaw them.

I’m tired of this. I’m whining at full volume and full speed ahead. No apologies here. You can tough it out all you want. I’m done.

Just when we thought we had this tiger by the tail, it’s whipped us. We managed to stay above twenty degrees for most of the winter until March. And more snow is forecast for Monday through Wednesday coming up.

The cats and I went to scrounge for some catnip in the Winter garden this morning but it’s just that……buried under four feet of snow. I dug a trench to the last remembered location of the wilted heap and began to dig. I knew I was getting close when the felines suddenly began to dig alongside me.

I scooped out a bit of the magical kitty herb and half trudged, half excavated my way back to the driveway, cats in trance behind me. I quickly dismissed a half-second thought of clearing the whole garden patch. Didn’t take too much effort.

The wilted mass that is catnip.

Water’s been mission impossible for the last week in the below normal temps. We’d drag the hoses inside, filling up our RV with loop after loop of frozen rubber while the ice inside melted, then drag the thousand feet of inevitably tangled anaconda-like mess outside only to have them freeze up again by the time we had them strung out and ready to siphon.

Although we’ve done our best to keep the pump and heated hose clear, the zero temps are still having their way with us.¬† No water until they thaw with the help of a small heater fan every morning.¬† The cold and snow have also been having their way with our driveway. Already got stuck and shook hands with a small tree last week due to worn tires.

Off to Walmart to have new tires put on so we can get back up our driveway.

At least they have coffee.

Nothing’s Easy In The Snow

Snow……………two to three feet of it as far as the eye can see blankets the region we now live in and it has become like the annoying guest who has overstayed their visit. We used to pray for it but it’s different now that we’ve moved.

I have come to the new conclusion that snow is an entity and it doesn’t want you mobile. Period. It’s heavy and slippery and it’s somewhat evil. That’s my theory. Nothing’s easy in the snow and there is a lot of it here as opposed to where we used to live. Our attitudes have changed.

In all fairness we asked for this. We chose to move here partly because we disliked the constant grey and drizzle of the Puget Sound region surrounding Seattle. Throughout our childhoods, both my husband and I would pray for just an inch or two; please God, so school would be cancelled and everyone and their Aunt could go sledding and make snowmen.

Now we just want it to go away.

Snow was a major event back where we lived. Highways would turn into skating rinks, school would be cancelled,  and twenty four hour news coverage would begin with reporters positioned around the region for up-to-the-minute coverage of the event. An old standby was the intersections at the base of Queen Anne hill in Seattle, where, inevitably, action was sure to be caught on camera as car after car would lose control on the incline.

Cul-de-sacs would become central meeting places or snowball-fight war zones, depending. Snow was a happening; an event. It was cause for socializing. It brought people out of their houses to come together – back in western Washington.

Here, snow is simply a fact of life; something you deal with, not celebrate. Four wheel drive is mandatory, especially if you have unmaintained road which our almost half mile driveway is. Too many times we’ve had to mine our way through the last precipitous¬† section of road after having gotten stuck within one-hundred feet of our front door. Groceries be damned.

For several months a year, the very idea of wading from the house to the car becomes an adventure in itself. Once, my husband slipped on the ice and spun into an out-of-control sort of falling dance that lasted for a good fifteen seconds. As he flailed around wildly, I thought he was joking until he desperately pawed at me before he finally hit the ground.

Slogging back and forth to chop and carry wood to the house is plain tiring.

The snow gets so deep here even the wildlife shares the trails once they’re blazed.

Don’t leave that ax on the ground or you might not find it till Spring. Last year I lost a coffee pot lid and never found it. Our hatchet disappeared beneath the ice and we couldn’t find it for a good month. Bets were placed on it’s whereabouts among other items that had come up missing.

The other day we had to exhume two hundred feet of category five Ethernet cable from beneath it. The top foot or so was light and fluffy but the lower layer was solid ice. We had to carefully chip away at the ice with a pick ax for a good half hour in order to free it. God knows where the garden hoses are.

Here in eastern Washington snow is regarded as inevitable; something to be dealt with. Celebrations are considered best to be had indoors in crowded kitchens or within the proximity of a baking fireplace. The weather is met with a sense of resolve and a big sigh in knowing you’re going to have to have your driveway plowed again when you had it done two days before and the roofs are going to have to be cleared for the fifth time in a month.

Here, winter means it’s time to put snow tires on and make sure you have a chord or two of wood for the fireplace. People adapt; socially and logistically to their climates. But still; no matter where you live, nothing’s easy in the snow.

I want Spring.

 

The Hill Of Death Revisited

My husband and I went down the road again today that I wrote about in an earlier post. It’s steep and windy, has a very precipitous drop off and gets icy during the winter months; and there are no guard rails.

Originally we swore off of it but as the weather conditions improved, we began to use it again then they went back to bad and we found the road to be reasonably kept up sanding-wise.

Because of the expectations we’d built up, we decided to venture down the Hill Of Death again today, not expecting it to be the Hill Of Death but now it’s the Hill Of Death again in our eyes.

I started to record on my phone as we approached because the hill had become the subject of some contention amongst the community and I like to document things just in case.

Sure enough, we began to slide about halfway down and I had a heart attack. My husband remained remarkably calm. No, I wasn’t planning on sliding. I didn’t enjoy the experience at all. No set up here.

I posted it to the local discussion/classifieds Facebook page calling for the installation of a guard rail and all hell broke lose. To my surprise, the video has been viewed over two thousand times since this morning (a lot for anything I’ve ever posted anywhere).

An almost cultural debate has arisen out of it. Some folks swear you should just stay home if you don’t know how to drive in the snow or don’t move to the country if you can’t stand the heat.¬† Others maintain the government has a duty to provide reasonably safe roadways to the public. I agree with the latter. BTW, two other people came dangerously close to sliding off the edge.

At the end of the day, no amount of local rhetoric about “staying home” is gonna keep an accident or death from happening due to the negligence of the party responsible for it’s maintenance. No amount of “buck-up” talk will prevent the issue from the inevitable reckoning that will take place within the justice system. And most importantly, no amount of “get some chains, idiot” talk is going to bring the dead back to life.

Decisions involving public safety on publicly maintained roads are rightfully made and administered by the government agencies responsible for them. In my humble opinion.

One gentleman replied to my post on Facebook with the reply “it’s Winter”. That sums it up, I guess. I wrote a poem in response:

Winter the disqualifier

Why sand roads or put out fires

For that matter who needs seatbelts

Hunker down wait till the sleet melts

Groceries gas are overrated

Don’t complain or you’ll be hated

It’s winter that makes perfect sense

Fits most every circumstance

If you’re not a seasoned expert

It’s on you deserve what you get

Having standards is for sissies

Center lines, stop lights are prissy

We don’t need no traffic laws

Cause we have hydraulic jaws

Summer fall just pick a season

Don’t need logic or good reason

It’s wintertime yup that explains it

No one should have to maintain it

I believe in common sense

Use your brain in self defense

But we don’t all drive the same

Let’s be clear on who’s to blame

It’s winter – lower expectations

Don’t deserve safe transportation

Its winter after all why bother

That guy who died he ain’t my father

Crash and burn on your own time

Just don’t do it on my dime

If you die don’t take me with you

Safety for the whole’s no issue

Dog eat dog philosophy

Winter means its you not me

Public safety how absurd

No one cares be rest assured

Wait that guardrail they left out

Car went over hit my house

Now who pays who is at fault

Wish they’d sanded put down salt

Suddenly its now my problem

County pay my bills all of ’em

Gubment should have done much more

Car parts on my kitchen floor

Group responsibility

Applies to you but not to me

Its winter that is my excuse

Backfired badly now I lose